The following are a sampling of important reviews of recent exhibitions and Civic Radar, a retrospective book of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work.
June 2018 Sophie Kovel
Entering Roberta Lester’s hotel room, though permitted, even explicitly encouraged, had the effect of trespassing. Her identity was constructed through the artifacts she left behind: cosmetics, clothing, and an accumulation of notes and receipts. Though her life was lived behind closed doors, she was compelled to leave this one open.
With The Novalis Hotel, Hershman Leeson asks: How far do you go? How is identity assembled? What are you willing to leave behind? But the work also reminds us of Roberta Lester’s invocation, “can anyone truly be anonymous now?” The answer might lie in two recent events: a controversial law that gives Bavarian police new power to use forensic DNA profiling and Microsoft’s call to U.S. Congress to limit the use of facial recognition technology. We are vulnerable in the world; we can be read by it.
June 26, 2019 Hyperallergic
In her introduction, Swinton notes that she views Orlando as “being far less only about gender and far more about the profound flexibility of the fully awake and sensate spirit.” She is supported in this vision by various writing contributions to this issue, which include the usual suspects such as Jack Halberstam, Eileen Myles, and Maggie Nelson. However, this vision does not shine through in the exhibition. There are a few notable exceptions; Sepuya thoughtfully addresses the blatant racism that takes place on the first page of Woolf’s novel, where Orlando is found playing with a decapitated head of a Moor. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentation of the five-year-long performance (1973-1978) she did as a fictional persona named Roberta Breitner demonstrates that as early as 1973, she was exploring the false notion of an authentic self, visualizing a fluid identity that is not necessarily connected to gender.
April 18, 2019 Art Agenda
As Hershman Leeson disappears and Breitmore emerges, it becomes clear how much her work has directly and indirectly influenced younger generations of artists concerned with technology and artifice, like Amalia Ulman or Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin. Quotidian experiences in a mediated world of reality TV and Instagram profiles are grinning grimaces hyperbolizing the fluidity of identity and its performance. That said, the topicality of especially women’s and non-binary identity, in an art field dominated by men, has hardly waned. The question of identity politics remains pertinent in a time when right-wing identitarian alliances usurp emancipatory strategies in a confused, reversed rhetoric to rally against the “threat” of loss of privilege and hegemonic culture, and the “burdens” of political correctness alike. Hershman Leeson, in being all of her characters at once and none of them at all, reminds us of the cyborgian project, urging us to reclaim it from reactionary forces and commodification in biotech industries alike.
April 4, 2019 The New York Times
“We have been sending postcards and snapshots since the early time of photography,” Mr. Chéroux said, though noting that the volume and intensity of communication have of course grown with social media. “The whole exhibition is playing with this tension,” he said. “It’s new — and not so new.”
The show makes its argument most dramatically with its focus on “mail art” of the 1960s and ’70s, artists’ projects that used the Postal Service as an unwitting collaborator. Ray Johnson, for instance, sent a photographic self-portrait to Joseph Cornell in 1966 in hopes of establishing a relationship with one of his artistic heroes. And Lynn Hershman Leeson made postage stamps in 1972 with images of her face partly obscured, challenging the United States government to stamp them and further obliterate her identity.
February 28, 2019 WSJ Magazine
As The Shed’s first guest curator, the writer and critic Nora N. Khan is the driving force behind Manual Override, a group exhibition opening in the fall that highlights the work of artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. The show will debut the final installment of Hershman Leeson’s The Complete Electronic Diaries (1984–2018)—a series that foreshadowed the interplay of personal history and digital identity—and showcase research from her collaborations with scientists and engineers. “I like to work out on the edge, with projects and interfaces that have yet to be developed,” says Hershman Leeson. “In a way, working with The Shed was a bit like that.” Taking inspiration from Hershman Leeson’s cross-disciplinary approach, the exhibition will also feature other artists who have been paired with programmers, artificial-intelligence experts and geneticists to create new work.
February 11, 2019 MoMA Magazine
!Women Art Revolution is an inspiring documentary about the history of feminist art, poignantly told through the perspectives of artists, curators, and critics, including the Guerilla Girls, Lucy Lippard, Adrian Piper, Yvonne Rainer, Martha Rosler, Betya Saar, Carolee Schneemann, Nancy Spero, and Marcia Tucker. Mixing multiple visual strategies, Lynn Hershman Leeson filmed her subjects over 40 years, overlaying her footage with political events such as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers, women’s liberation, and the free speech movement. The film acquires further urgency in light of today’s #MeToo movement.
January 4, 2019 Artspace
Lynn Hershman Leeson was incredibly ahead of her time. Well before the Cyberfeminist Movement—and well before the internet, for that matter—Leesson was the first artist to make an interactive artwork using Videodisc (a precursor to the DVD). Made in 1983-84, the film disk Lorna enables viewers to gain access to the main character’s emotions in the manner of a ‘name your own adventure’ story by allowing them to make important life decisions for her (not entirely unlike Netflix’s recent release of the interact Black Mirror movie called Bandersnatch… 35 years later). Leeson was also the first artist to use a touch screen interface in an artwork (Deep Contact, 1984-1989). She also used robotics, video, and performance. She’s perhaps best known for her project Roberta Breitmore: an alter ego and fictional persona she developed from 1972 to 1982. During this time period, Roberta Breitmore was more than just embodied; her existence could be “proven” by a paper trail of credit cards, letters from her psychiatrist, even a driver’s license. Eventually, Roberta was “cloned” and the artist hired a number of other performers to enact the character. In 1995, Roberta underwent another transformation: CybeRoberta. An early AI sculpture that existed on the web, the character could interact with users online. In 2006, she became a character on Second Life. Though Leeson may not typically be considered a Cyberfeminist, her contributions to new media certainly helped pave the way for the movement, and for Net Art in general.
December 3, 2018 Francesca Gavin
Lynn Hershman Leeson’s exhibition “First Person Plural” at KW Berlin comes in at #4 on writer, editor, and curator, Frencesca Gavin’s annual top ten list of exhibitions for the year.
November, 2018 Orlando
Olivia Aherne: Your work has been important in terms of challenging how we think about the body, both in relation to technology, biology, and a wider social acceleration. What does it mean for you to use the body as your subject and how has this changed over the course of your practice, moving from performance to science, particularly as technology has advanced? Why do you think this desire to break out of our selves—out of our own bodies— might feel particularly urgent today?
Lynn Hershman Leeson: I think it has been a progressive development, from responding to the outside of the body, looking at the superficial shifts of appearance, to considering the internal direct workings of the body. From the make-up chart of Roberta, for instance, to the creation of a LynnHershman antibody, and the (Rob)Erta antibody. We are in an era of mutation and genetic revolution. For the first time, the genome has been programmed. That allows for, and in some cases encourages, gene editing, and I believe this is being done as a means of survival on a polluted planet. I think people have to honour their own instincts and awareness in order to survive. We all take journeys in life. I was integrating my experiences and traumas into science and technology. I was often inventing the technologies that I saw coming before they were widely available, like the remote, or HyperCard for a touch screen with Lorna, and A.I. in 1995 before AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language), to name a few.
November, 2018 Art in America
More recently Schmuckli commissioned San Francisco’s own Lynn Hershman Leeson to create a Vertigo-based installation, titled VertiGhost, in which Kim Novak stand-ins enter the gallery to pay homage to Portrait of Carlotta Valdes, but Hershman Leeson allows Carlotta to have the last laugh, as she watches us— via camera lenses drilled into her portrait’s eyes— with the commanding gaze of one who glories in her own appeal. When the work was o view this past winter, the images of those Carlotta saw appeared on a video feed at the de Young.
October 10, 2018 Blouin Art Info
Much of the early work in the show, like the technology itself, simply did not age well. In the ’70s it may have been a marvel to generate a drawing using computer code, but that sense of awe has long dried up. One notable exception is “Lorna,” 1979-’84, an interactive video installation by Lynn Hershman Leeson that invites viewers into the life of Lorna, a woman suffering from agoraphobia. The installation mirrors Lorna’s room as seen on TV. The objects around it – a goldfish bowl, cheetah-print heels, a wallet – are listed on the TV screen as options in a choose-your-own adventure via remote control. Each choice leads to different video clips that are equal parts surreal and film noir. The branching narrative can unfold in a number of ways, but there are only three endings: death, escape, or destroying the TV. Leeson offers an expansive commentary on our mediated existence and how we’re all, especially women, stifled and subjugated by forces beyond our control.
October 3, 2018 Brooklyn Rail
Ramos-Chapman has said in interviews that the piece is a response to her own rape, and in this sense, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s video Electronic Diary Part III: First Person Plural (1988) might be called its spiritual companion. Leeson also speaks directly to the camera and in brief, lacerating scenes, recounts the hells and memories she was forbidden to talk about as a child, including both her personal experience of assault and rape as a child, and her extended family’s suffering during the Holocaust. The scenes are periodically overlaid with World War II footage, with which Leeson underscores the trauma of rape as another sort of holocaust—one perpetrated upon women. Their bodies damaged, their souls annihilated; it’s horror that seeps through generations.
September 20, 2018 The New York Times
The two-part show is staged in the spacious main gallery and in a new multistory building across the street, a former Victorian fire station. Perched on the main gallery’s ceiling beams are a group of stuffed pigeons by Maurizio Cattelan. Other lighthearted displays include Lynn Hershman Leeson’s image of a woman with a clock in place of a torso, “Biological Clock 2,” from 1995, and Matthew Higgs’s “Portrait (Landscape),” from 2006, an all-red canvas bearing the inscription “NO OIL PAINTING” across the middle.
September 2018 Art Monthly
Isobel Harbison: When making your diary-format project First Person Plural, the Electronic Diaries of Lynn Hershman Leeson between 1984 to 1996, the central work of your recent exhibition curated by Anna Gritz and Cathrin Mayer at KW Institute in Berlin, did you have a particular audience or viewing architectures in mind?
Lynn Hershman Leeson: I had neither, only an urgency to speak and an ambition to learn the language of video. I had no idea they would ever be shown or broadcast.
IH: Were there any specific events that triggered First Person Plural or did it respond to a more generalized sense of unease? At the time you made this work, surveys conducted between 1983 and 1984 revealed how North Americans were experiencing new surveillance consciousness and screen paranoia, an alertness that your work has constantly played upon.
LHL: Surveillance became a subcurrent of that and many other works, like my Phantom Limb photographs made between 1980 and 1990, or Deep Contact of 1989, or America’s Finest, made over 1993 and 1994, or Tillie the Telerobotic Doll and Cyberoberta which I made between 1994 and 1996, and even Roberta from 1972 to 1979. In the mid 1980s, computers were just coming into private homes and the ELectronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, was alerting people to the government’s increased access to personal information and probable surveillance through computer wires. So incorporating surveillance was inspired more by the general terror of the era rather than a specific action.
August 27, 2018 Artsy
“Without time, I cannot make anything,” said Lynn Hershman Leeson, who, for decades, has been pioneering new media art to tap into the relationship between humans and technology. And while she’s used everything from a wax cast of her own face to a telerobotic doll with webcam eyes, her go-to supplies are straightforward: pens, paper, and her MacBook, which she relies on for the use of Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. “I first draw what I am thinking, create a plan to bring the drawing into life, and use Photoshop or Final Cut to more specifically animate the project,” Hershman Leeson explained.
August 16, 2018 Frieze
Over four chapters, Hershman Leeson faces the camera in a confessional style akin to US talk shows. Here, the character reveals personal details: what provoked her to become an artist, her own estrangement from her body, that her husband’s leaving her led her to substitute cookies for sex. We see the taped progress of an illness and imagery of body scans juxtaposed with footage from the October 1989 earthquake in northern California. Her diaries become gradually more tragic and an initial suspicion provoked by their demands for empathy gives way to compassion. Hershman Leeson’s existential question: ‘What would you take if you were given 15 minutes to take anything that means something to you if you were dislocated forever,’ resonates uncannily within the bare walls of the defunct warehouse. As the artist adds, however: ‘Sometimes dying in your own prime leads to immortality.’
July 2018 Art News Chinese Edition
Art&Tech | Technology, Humanity, Women: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s “Artificial Man” and Antibodies Made by Novartis in Her Name
As one of the earliest and most influential media artists, Lynn Hershman Leeson has been very busy recently. In the past four months, her solo exhibition “Lynn Hershman Leeson: Anti-Bodies” at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin opened at KW’s public space at the Novalis Hotel. The new commissioned work “The Novalis Hotel” is based on her iconic installation “the Dante Hotel”. In addition, Basel’s House of Electronic Arts (Hek) hosted an exhibition called “Lynn Hershman Leeson: First Person Plural”; at the same time, Shanghai’s ShanghART Gallery, Brussels’s Waldburger Wouters Gallery, and San Francisco’s Anglim Gilbert Gallery host individual exhibitions by the artist.
July 2018 MYOZINE
Spooky things are happening at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. A woman sits on a bench and looks at the painting of a woman who resembles her except for her carefully styled hair – or is it the other way around? Another painting remains locked away for years until it is checked for authenticity one last time and thereupon appears on a wall – but does that change anything about the picture? How fictional is the man who in the movie “Vertigo” forms a woman after his ideals, and how much of his persona is modeled after the actual director Alfred Hitchcock? What does actually constitute the authenticity of a painting and what the identity of a person? Lynn Hershman Leeson has been engaged with such issues for decades, and with her latest project “VertiGhost” she revisits ideas that are scarily topical in times of Twitterbots, virtual face recognition, and big data.
06.25.2018 Art Basel | Conversations
Coinciding with Lynn Hershman Leeson’s first solo show in Switzerland at House of Electronic Arts Basel, this conversation takes on the artist’s long-term work and obsessions of biological progress, developments in artificial intelligence and scientific research on antibodies. Working since the 1970’s, her practice investigates issues of identity, gender-role, the double bind of voyeurism and surveillance, as well as what it means to be human in an increasingly cyber world. Hershman Leeson’s internet-based projects include CyberRoberta (1996), a robotic doll version of Roberta Breitmore whose eyes were replaced with webcams.
There is the year in which they deserve 10 less, but the level is almost always the same: intergalactic excellence. If possible, this year Beyeler Foundation and Schaulager have passed. The first with an exhibition that put Francis Bacone Alberto Giacometti in dialogue , with loans from all over the world and impeccable set-ups, with Stendhal’s syndrome tips. If you think that, behind a panel in the introductory room, the Nose of the Swiss and a Head of the Fifties of the Irish touched each other … At the other end of the city, the Laurenz Foundation’s museum / storage has even dismantled the permanent works on the floor. -1 to make room for a spectacular retrospective of Bruce Nauman: everything, but everything you find here, on two floors, with a maniacal care for every detail and a double publication that makes the point in a fundamental way. How to say: for a decade or so at least, it will be impossible to propose an exhibition of Nauman, at least in Europe. Do you think that for institutions of this caliber it is “easy to win”? On the other hand, even smaller companies such as the HeK – Haus der elektronischen Künste, in the increasingly interesting district of Dreispitz , have given their best this year: to see the exhibition / workshop of Lynn Hershman Leeson . Other than certain pseudo-scientific robots dated twenty years that are seen in our country.
06.15.2018 Art News
On Thursday evening, I was talking to a dealer at Art Basel who, despite being on his third day of sitting in his booth, was feeling positively buoyant about the whole experience. Interesting people had been coming through, there was great art on offer at the fair, and beyond the Messeplatz, there was even more to see at museums and galleries. Basel during art fair week is a paradise of ambitious exhibitions.
I ask Leeson how she deals with the weight of her subject. I ask her why she bothers to bring these technologies to the attention of the public — why isn’t she, for example, hunkered down in a bunker somewhere in Wyoming? “Basically, because I can,” Leeson says with a laugh. “I don’t know anybody else in the art world who has the capability of pushing scientific research in this way.”
06.14.2018 Berlin Art Link
The management and control of identity, and the distribution of personality and agency, have been subjects of Hershman Leeson’s work since she began making “videotapes” more than four decades ago, and ‘First Person Plural’ does an excellent job of drawing connections between the earlier and later works, highlighting the ways in which Hershman Leeson has evolved in order to remain the same artist with the same set of concerns. The first room of the exhibition, housed in an abandoned warehouse complex near the Moritzplatz U-Bahn station, is oddly homely, emphasizing the ways in which technologies and personalities interact. Hershman Leeson deftly explores the ways in which agency is often subsumed within the deceptive performance of “making choices.” In the Cold War America of Hershman Leeson’s earlier works, for example, the ability to make choices, particularly consumer choices, was a way of distinguishing Western societies from those behind the Iron Curtain: Communist populations were passive victims with no control over their own lives; the “government” made the decisions for its people. In the West, citizens controlled their own lives. Of course they did.
06.12.2018 The Art Newspaper
Lynn Hershman Leeson: I think I’ve always been an artist, since I was maybe two years old; it was the language that I knew, that I could communicate, though not to many people. But my mother was a biologist and my family are all scientists—my daughter is a scientist, my brother is a scientist. So, to me, science is magic, and of course it has changed enormously, particularly in the past 15 years, so it’s like a completely new language. But I think there’s been a fascination for me in what’s happening to our species and particularly since CRISPR [Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a bacterial defence system at the heart of a form of genome editing technology] and since the genome was programmed, and the choices that we have now, it seemed like this was one of the more important elements of our human condition, and really the condition of all living things. So that’s what interested me in it. But I do think it helped me that I could talk to scientists, because I think they didn’t expect me to understand what they were saying and then when I did, the conversation deepened.
June 2018 Metropolis M
Lynn Herhsman Leeson: The first real encounter with technology in my art happened when I was about
sixteen years old and I had been doing drawings of women and I wanted to make a copy of a drawing so
I put it through a Xerox machine. In those days you had to feed the paper through and it would come
out of a roll. In this particular instance the paper got caught in the roll and ripped and was mashed with
ink spread all overthe image… I eventually pulled it out of the paper roll and realized that this “accident” really improved the
drawing. I thought it was much better than I could have done because it somehow emphasized the
shape of the drawing but then it added the dimension I could have never imagined because of the way
the edges were ripped and the way that the ink flowed. So I realized that this merging of technological
machine and the original idea was really symbiotic. I tried to do it again but I couldn’t replicate it.
A pioneer of both feminist and new-media art in the 1960s and 70s, Lynn Hershman Leeson has for decades engaged with issues relating to technology (specifically biotechnology) and the body, and how technological evolutions might shape our concepts of identity and individuality in the future. At Hek (Haus der elektronischen Künste), Hershman Leeson’s new show is conceived as a scientific laboratory that looks at the increasing influence of genetic engineering of human life. Expect to find a reworking of the American artist’s multimedia installation The Infinity Engine (2011) (which includes, among others, a gene lab, a flurry of archival pictures from genetic experiments and genetically-modified glow-in-the-dark goldfish in tanks); interviews with scientists discussing recent techniques and methods of genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and bioprinting; and a new anti-body, named after the artist and developed in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. What does it cure? You find out.
Summer 2018 Mousse
Lynn Hershman Leeson: All of my work questions conditions of inequality and censorship. The characters often overcome inherited cultural restrictions, and through the process reverse the prohibition of verbal expression. The use of interactive narrative structures was, for me, a way of democratizing the medium itself by encouraging choice, which simultaneously created a political potency. Rather than passively observing or being subliminally affected by media, they become active participants in decisions.
June 2018 SLEEK
In The Novalis Hotel — a commission by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, to coincide with the artist’s current solo exhibition First Person Plural — Leeson revisits one of her early site-specific installations, The Dante Hotel (1972-3). After being removed from a mainstream gallery exhibition for including work that featured a recording device, she rented a room in a run-down North Beach hotel, The Dante, and designed it as if it were occupied by a woman named Roberta Breitmore, one of several alter egos Leeson has developed throughout her career. Visitors would get a key to Roberta’s room, which they could visit and find clues about her life — why she was there, what she hoped to do and so on. The character staying in the Novalis is an older woman named Roberta Lester… When we arrive at the hotel, we are told that, if we want to, we can leave a sample of our DNA before going into the room. Once the exhibition closes, Leeson will collaborate with a forensic scientist to analyse the samples for gender, race, and eye colour — idea being that you are in a sense under surveillance as you yourself surveil Roberta.
05.29.2018 Badische Zeitung
Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the ceiling fresco of the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous works of art history. The two outstretched, not quite touching forefingers are regarded as a symbol of creative power. In the exhibition “Anti-Bodies” by Lynn Hershman Leeson, which is currently taking place in the House of Electronic Arts in Münchenstein near Basel, the creation has a different face. For example, that of a cat that glows neon green. Through a process called genome editing, such a being can truly and truly be created. For this purpose, a green fluorescent jellyfish protein is incorporated into the genome of a cat. There is an apt picture of this far less heavenly kind of creation in the exhibition: two hands holding syringes, their hypodermic needles – almost – touch. To say: Man has taken the design of life into his own hands. In the laboratory.
“Anti-Bodies”, biological progress, scientific research and artificial intelligence at the HeK in Basel
The exhibition Lynn Hershman Leeson: Anti-Bodies is convincing proof of Hershman Leeson’s continued dedication to the relevant technologies and questions of our time. She is rightly described as a portraitist of the information age, a close observer of the protocols and institutions that will shape our concepts of identity and individuality in the future. In this sense, her art is also always political, since she concerns herself with the central social issues of our time.
At the entrance to the exhibition by Lynn Hershman at the Basle House of Electronic Arts (HeK) we visitors are supposed to put on a white lab coat. “So you can better put yourself in the picture,” explains the friendly woman at the cash register. It is also advisable to read the hall sheet with the explanations to the exhibits exactly, otherwise you probably will not get out of it. An exhibition that should work only thanks to role-playing game and explanatory brochure makes something suspicious. And this distrust does not diminish if you find yourself in a laboratory situation in the first room: with test tubes and special waste bins for “Biohazard”. At the heart of the exhibition is an antibody from the Novartis laboratory that maps the letters of Hershman’s name as a molecular protein structure. At the end of the tour, there is also a tiny piece of DNA on which Hershman’s works are stored: the first DNA-based work of art, explains the Saalblatt – leaving many questions unanswered.
04.15.2018 Waldburger Wouters
Hershman Leeson’s incredibly varied six-decade oeuvre touches on many themes that a new generation of artists today find incredibly urgent, such as the definition of life, the manipulation of biology for corporate capital gain, received notions and stigma around the body, ability and attractiveness. At the time of their creation, Hershman Leeson’s works were rarely afforded the support, value and attention that they are now recognized to have today. It is through her perseverance in keeping a meticulous archive and soldiering on making new work, and her insistence on keeping a perspective beyond one’s situated presence, that we are able to experience and appreciate her works today.
Is this art or more a science presentation? Surely it is a good, elaborate and cleverly presented research. And it is not just a scientist, but an artist who shows the material from so many different perspectives and plays it blatantly. Neither the scientist nor the journalist would let an anti-body develop from their name. Hershmann Leeson is all about how we use these technologies. “They could be good for humanity and the planet,” she says. But it depends on who has them in their hands. It is clear that they will shape our future. The Jazz Festival Montreux is already in the process of transferring its entire archive to DNA storage.
In the first Swiss exhibition by Hershman-Leeson, the HeK focuses on the new biotechnological developments. Thus, among other things, regenerative medicine, genetic research and antibody research are discussed. For this purpose, the premises in the HeK are being converted into a scientific laboratory. A highlight is the installation “The Infinity Engine”, which is modeled on a gene laboratory. The installation shows how the boundaries between natural and artificial life increasingly dissolve and how life can be artificially shaped today.
Work revealing that the flip side of documentation is surveillance has its own section in the exhibition, but the pieces sometimes feel too literal and obvious to be engaging. Trevor Paglen’s “Autonomy Cube” (2014) is a functional Tor router encased in Plexiglas that allows visitors to surf the internet anonymously. But, it’s impossible to know that without reading the wall text, which also prescribes that we should be nervous about using public Wi-Fi and being watched. And the indifferent reactions to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s surveillance doll “CybeRoberta” (1995–1996), impossible to anticipate when the piece was constructed, are both notably ironic and ominously specific to our time: visitors take selfies by photographing its camera. We’re so used to being in front of one that a piece criticizing surveillance inadvertently gives us another chance at self-performance.
04.26.2018 The Art Newspaper
The dark web, surveillance dolls, and Van Gogh’s zombie ear: technology’s role in art debated at Boston conference
Two other works in the show, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s CybeRoberta (1995-96) and Tillie, the Telerobotic Doll (1995-98), are a pair of toys with concealed surveillance cameras that can be controlled by visitors in the gallery or online, sending videos of their surroundings—including images of museum visitors—to the dolls’ websites. The dolls are “a little creepy” to a lawyer, Baletsa said, cautioning that visitors would need to be put on notice that they could be videotaped and their images broadcast around the world. The ICA has done just that, De Blois said, through notices and museum staff in the galleries. What about unlawful wiretapping, if a visitor’s phone conversation is recorded? “The dolls do not record audio,” De Blois confirmed.
04.18.2018 CLOT Magazine
Hershman Leeson began working with concepts around cyborgs as early as 1962 (we could say planting a fertile seed for Donna Haraway’s 1975 essay ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’). In the 1990s, she started working with the themes of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. A time when it became evident that it was no longer necessary to have a physical body to adopt a fictitious identity in the global network. She coined the term “anti-body” to refer to her research and work on virtual identity in cyberspace. She saw her “anti-body” (or alter-ego) as a viral presence that manifests itself in artificial intelligence fictitious forms, such as the online personas Agent Ruby and DiNA, roaming of the Internet and morphing to survive. As she explains: anti-bodies identify, expose and transform toxins in culture. These same issues have permeated my work for the past 50 years.
03.26.2018 Topical Cream
The Dante Hotel (1972-3), which debuted Robert Breitmore, was site-specific to San Francisco. As a place where you live, does the Bay Area influence your work in any way?
Definitely, I wouldn’t be doing the kind have work that I have done if I were living in New York, where I would probably be painting. But here, you just think of something and there’s someone to help you make it. There are so many people there who are different than you are. I think that one of the advantages is when you’re working, particularly in the Bay Area, which has programmers from all over the world, people really want to know what this can do and you’re doing it as a team. Not to make any money but to push the technology, to push things to an area of discourse.
The exhibition has on display both new and rarely seen multimedia works, as well as film, painting, sculpture, photography, and drawings by more than 70 artists. These include works by art stars such as Cory Arcangel, Judith Barry, James Bridle, Constant Dullaart, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Vera Molnar, Nam June Paik, Thomas Ruff, Hito Steyerl and Amalia Ulman. “Electronic Superhighway” gets its name from a term coined by South Korean video art pioneer Nam June Paik. He coined the term in 1974 when he foresaw the potential of global connections through a network technology. Arranged in reverse chronological order, “Electronic Superhighway” begins with works made at the turn of the millennium and ends with those exhibited in the iconic 1966 event “Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.).”
“When people sit down on the bank of the gallery, they often imitate Kim Novak,” says the artist, who shot 35 short film clips with three Madeleine doubles at various “Vertigo” locations and integrated them into the installation. Similar to Maddin, Hershman also expands on the “vertigo” perspective by making Madeleine play not only by a Ukrainian – akin to Kim Novak – but also by a brunette curator and an actress from Nigeria. In video interviews, the actresses reflect on their role play.
Looking ‘Future Shock’ in the Face, an Art Exhibition Reveals a Society Fundamentally Unsettled by Technology
Why It’s Worth a Look: “Future Shock” sets its sights on several big issues that couldn’t feel more timely—mass surveillance, technocapitalism, globalization, population growth, pressing environmental concerns, and others. But it’s also fun, with Tom Sachs’s Mars rovers and Doug Aitken’s surreal video vignettes of animals turned lose in abandoned hotel rooms sharing space with Dario Robleto’s plaintive time capsule-like collection of artifacts and Patrick Bernatchez’s Lost in Time, a bleak video narrative depicting figures adrift in an icy wilderness. You have to admire the ambition of curator Irene Hofmann, who sets a high bar here for the Santa Fe institution’s debut in its brand new, SHoP Architects-designed home.
In our current world of hypersensitivity to surveillance, the “States of Surveillance” gallery feeds your paranoia, by offering several artist’s work right out of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is alive and well and watching you. There are two seemingly precious, harmless dolls on stand displays (Lynn Hershman Leeson’s CybeRoberta and Tillie, the Telerobotic Doll) who’s eyes are actually video lenses watching all that occurs in this gallery space and you can connect and watch at home too! ( https://www.lynnhershman.com/cyberoberta/ )
01.31.2018 ArtDependence Magazine
“I do not see risks ever,” said Lynn Hershman Leeson. “I only see opportunities and the implications of not taking them, and the need for courage and vision.” Over the last four decades, artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson has been internationally acclaimed for her boundary-less art and films. Among the most significant media artists in contemporary times, Hershman Leeson is broadly recognized for her pioneering projects exploring the relationship between humans and technology, identity, surveillance, and the use of media as empowerment against censorship and repression.
01.18.2018 Bay Area Reporter
“Almost all of Hitchcock’s films deal with obsession and violence toward women and decapitation of their psyches,” she notes, but Vertigo, which film historian David Thomson has called “Hitchcock’s finest moment as a master of cruelty and torture,” was particularly suited for Leeson’s latest brainchild, not only because it was shot on location in San Francisco and the museum, but because it represented an opportunity to revisit the ghost of the production, revise it on her own terms, and “turn everyone into a performer.”
01.12.2018 Sloan Science & Film
Science & Film: Why did you choose Vertigo as the subject of this commission?
Lynn Hershman Leeson: It occurred to me that this great film was shot at the Legion of Honor and the same bench [from scenes central to Vertigo] remained in the gallery. Why not use that architecture and film history? Essentially every visitor to the Museum who sat on that bench was re-performing Kim Novak’s role as Madeleine. I was really lucky nobody thought of it before.
S&F: Can you talk about the technology you used to create VertiGhost?
LHL: It’s so easy. It starts with going into the gallery room, because everything is identical [to when Hitchcock filmed there in 1958]. In a corner of the gallery, I put a mirror with a value sign on it that reflects a manikin with Madeleine’s clothes on it. The whole installation is about mirroring, value, artificiality, and twins. You sit down on a bench in front of my version of the Carlotta painting, which I blurred because it was more interesting, like blurring the truth of surveillance. Hidden in flowers [on the bench] is a 3D printed sensor that looks like a leaf.
01.09.2018 UC Davis
Internationally renowned artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, UC Davis professor emeritus, is receiving major awards from the College Art Association and the Women’s Caucus for the Arts. She will receive the Distinguished Feminist Award — Visual Artist from the CAA in February and a lifetime achievement award from the Women’s Caucus. Hershman Leeson is an internationally known artist who has done groundbreaking work in video, film and photography that combines art with social commentary, particularly on the relationship between people and technology. She taught in the College of Letters and Science’s Department of Art and Art History and the Technocultural Studies program (now known as Cinema and Digital Media) from 1993 to 2006.
12.13.2017 The Brooklyn Rail
Films that engage scientists or scientific ideas enhance public understanding of subjects fundamental to human progress. Enhancing public understanding can advance science by informing what questions are asked, which can affect the direction of research. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s film Teknolust (2002)—starring Tilda Swinton as three distinct replicants created by a biogeneticist named Rosetta Stone, who communicates with them through a microwave, was always amazing but is newly relevant now that the human genome has been sequenced and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing can alter it. This technology is as capable of creating—without sexual reproduction—new organisms, as it is of curing illnesses. Public understanding can help to establish moral and ethical usage guidelines.
12.11.2017 San Francisco Chronicle
The video rolls with that familiar Hitchcockian soundtrack, and there is the backside of Kim Novak as she steps from a luxury sedan and gracefully walks toward the Legion of Honor. But this is not Vertigo. This is VertiGhost, a clever video installation that employs exact re-creations of the San Francisco scenes from that famous 1958 film to explore questions of double and hidden identity. Multiple media artist Lynn Hershman Leeson hired a film crew of 15 or 20, plus three models to play the Novak role, to create VertiGhost. The original San Francisco locations were shot with the same angles and lighting used by Alfred Hitchcock. The result is spooky in how precise it is. Spookier still is the setting for Leeson’s installation. It opens Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Legion of Honor in the same gallery that Hitchcock used for the scene in which Novak sits on a bench and studies a mysterious painting called Portrait of Carlotta.
Winter 2017 Cultured Magazine
At San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, in the room where Alfred Hitchcock shot Vertigo, you can sit on the bench on which Kim Novak sat and gaze at a portrait that has a GoPro camera hidden behind its eyes. The piece is part of a complex installation by pioneering artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson, which is on display from December 16 to March 25. Titled VertiGhost, the work explores the shifting relations between fact, fiction, surveillance and identity—themes that Hershman Leeson has been investigating for more than 50 years. Asked to come up with a site-specific work that made reference to the collection, the artist thought it would be exciting to deal with the museum’s Hollywood history. “In an era of fake news,” she explains, “mistaking false information for truth is a topic whose time has come.”
2017 SF Film Persistence of Vision Award
For half a century now, Lynn Hershman Leeson has made pioneering contributions to performance, conceptual art, new media, and film with works whose formal and technical experimentation is matched by her fearlessness in the deconstruction of gendered identity in a misogynist and technologically mediated world. Her work is of such scope that as I traverse the theater of memory I have constructed in my mind’s eye to understand her expansive and inquisitive practice, the image that arises is less that of a classical building housing art pieces in a neat arrangement of cause and effect, and much more that of a cloud as its particles of ice and water rub against each other, creating electric arcs discharging flashes of insight—a network of artworks connected in multiple directions whose materials are Lynn’s own condensed time coming together with public life.
11.10.2017 Monopol Magazine
[On “Affect Me”, a group exhibition at Kai 10 | Arthena Foundation in Düsseldorf]
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Co. have fallen into disrepute with Trump and “Fake News”. On the other hand, the millionfold linked mobile phone image became an important instrument of independent opinion formation. The group show “Affect Me” in Düsseldorf’s Kai 10 presents works that relate to the new pictorial phenomena of social media. Artists such as Lara Baladi, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Thomas Hirschhorn, Rabih Mroué or Thomas Ruff reflect the usage, the semantics and the aesthetic appeal of these images – or they critically show how images create facts and erode the line between reality and fiction.
11.02.2017 The Inquirer
Female artists have typically gotten short shrift for their roles in creating art movements, so who’s surprised that their numerous contributions to technology-oriented art aren’t especially known? Now, that particular gender gap in contemporary art’s timeline has been effectively closed. In “Making/Breaking the Binary: Women, Art, and Technology (1968-85)” at UArts’ Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, curator Kelsey Halliday Johnson makes the case that female artists took to technology the minute it became available — and ran with it… Other artists in Johnson’s show have made entire careers in new media, but not without an affection for the handmade… And there are the outliers with considerable reputations. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s films have explored the relationships between people and technology; a work of hers from 1976, Roberta’s Construction Chart #2, suggests an acquaintance’s future cosmetic surgery.
11.02.2017 The Brooklyn Rail
I arrived in the Bay Area to take a full time teaching job at UC Berkeley in 2003, having spent the previous fifteen years in LA. For a long time, I was homesick for the unapologetic ambition of that sprawling, gaudy version of a real city, and for the artists who had taught me to love it. With detectable scorn, people here would ask “did you liiiiike it there?” Yes, I did. The work of friends and teachers like Lari Pittman, Liz Larner, Billy Woodberry, Thom Andersen, or Cathy Opie had helped me to see where I was. Others, among them Mary Kelly, Mike Kelley, Catherine Lord, Allan Sekula, and Monica Majoli fed my attraction to violently close observation, to abjectly humorous truth-telling. The Bay Area art scene I could grasp seemed to me overly invested in its own local heroes, and prone to valorizing pretty, design-y, technophilic or conceptually lite art practices. I didn’t know jack! But people whose work I admired had chosen to live here, to stay here even if, maybe even because San Francisco was (and still is) a provincial city. B. Ruby Rich, Anna Halprin, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Vincent Fecteau, Trinh Minh-ha, Dodie Bellamy, Kaja Silverman, Kevin Killian, Pamela Lee, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Larry Sultan, Moira Roth, Pauline Oliveros, Bill Berkson, and Connie Lewallen are some of those people.
10.16.2017 The Spectrum
The film highlights some of Bruguera’s performance art, which in some cases have been tuned out by construction workers employed through government efforts. The film also looks at one of her more popular and interactive works, “Tatlin’s Whisper.” The work involved hiring magicians who train doves to sit on participants’ shoulders. The symbolism displayed in the film draws influence from one of Fidel Castro’s speeches as a Cuban leader when doves landed on his shoulders. Bruguera replicates this imagery hoping that participants could see themselves as leaders. The conversation between the psychiatrist and Bruguera delivered unique candor to the audience, who wholesomely applauded the film at its conclusion.
At the core of the 2018 Director’s Programme of Glasgow International will be a group exhibition in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) including work by Joseph Buckley, Jesse Darling, Cécile B. Evans, Lynn Hershman-Leeson, E. Jane, Sam Keogh, Mai-Thu Perret and John Russell, as well as emerging Glasgow-based artist Jamie Crewe. Further artists will be announced in due course.
Entitled Cellular World, the exhibition will bring together new commissions and existing work by artists examining the interface between humans and technology, reacting on how our current situation sits on a precipice between utopia and dystopia. The works on show will explore ideas of the cyborg and the avatar raising questions of identity and individual and collective consciousness at a time of prolific social change and uncertainty when reality can often seem more like science fiction.
October 2017 Mousse
Leeson remains a neutral observer throughout, using Ochberg as a conduit to massage Bruguera into revealing painful details. As Ochberg considers Bruguera’s experience, he states: “Truth is the enemy of the dictator. And a dictator classically has many weapons to destroy the bearers of truth… what I didn’t expect is how guilty you feel for telling truth to power.” Bruguera responds: “I always damage people.” Ochberg replies: “Part of the burden of responsibility that you have is that you bring others along. Revolutionaries gather others to confront the tyrant, the person who has power. And it’s risky. In a war people die, bullets fly. In a confrontation through art, and public statements, people’s reputations suffer. And you are going to do things that are risky that you can withstand. And other people are going to be attracted to do this along with you. And they may not have the same emotional strength. And you should feel a certain pain on their behalf, that comes with the job… I think you are feeling what the military would call survivor guilt.”
With VertiGhost, Hershman Leeson addresses the fake painting from the Hitchcock film and ties it to Amedeo Modigliani’s painting Pierre-Edouard Baranowski(ca. 1918), a work at the de Young that has for years been plagued with questions about its authenticity. A video produced as part of the project will feature interviews between Hershman Leeson, who is based in San Francisco, and an art historian, a conservator, and a psychiatrist. “What interested me was the context of Vertigo, which was shot [at the Legion of Honor],” Hershman Leeson, who was profiled by this magazine earlier this year, said by email. “I was interested also in untold stories of paintings, like the painting under painting, as an ‘undercover’ idea. . . . The 15-minute video is really about the ‘ghosts of history’ that refuse to rest until their stories are told.”
9.18.2017 The Guardian
Fall 2017 Elephant Magazine
June 2017 The New Fillmore Journal
05.23.2017 Art In America
What happens when a performance artist struggling against state censorship goes to therapy? In her new film Tania Libre, Lynn Hershman Leeson lets us eavesdrop on Tania Bruguera’s session with Dr. Frank Ochberg, a leading psychiatrist and PTSD expert. Their conversation is slow in tempo as it unfolds over the hour-long film, but it raises provocative questions about abusive familial structures and the ways that traumatic experiences of betrayal can play out on a larger political scale. Static camera angles of Bruguera and Ochberg relaxing on easy chairs have a drowsy visual impact as their discussion rambles between anecdotes and responses. But Bruguera’s stories are highly useful for interpreting her work, and although the mood of Tania Libre is sedate, its ideas are keen.
Edelson’s solo show coincided with two nearby gallery presentations designed to recover and re-situate work by less well-known practitioners of photo-conceptualism since the 1970s: prints by Vikky Alexander at Downs & Ross simulated the commercial advertising trope of the white female seducer, while Lynn Hershman Leeson’s generous survey at Bridget Donahue blended examples of her video/sculpture hybrids, among them the tenderly appointed living room from her work Lorna (1979–84). Each artist contends with the implications of female embodiment and social perception, and they share an overarching contention that public persona as commodity, however you valuate it, is regularly exchanged in the contemporary marketplace.
The majority of Leeson’s sprawling oeuvre has never been exhibited until now. Seen all at once, Civic Radar proves the insufficiency of the ready story of her technological innovation. It’s true that occasionally she reached so far ahead of her time as to be aesthetically incomprehensible. But she paired her forward thinking with an emotional depth and commitment to unearthing the taboos of female experience. The strength of Leeson’s practice comes from its fearlessness in the face of risk – from her earliest self-destructing Suicide Machines sculptures (1962–68) to her forays into cutting-edge media techniques and scientific research. At age 75, the later part of Leeson’s artistic story is more hopeful than the tragicomedy of her various heroines. It also presents a challenge to my generation of cultural producers, to use the networked technology at our disposal to more feminist, collaborative ends. To notice the weight of new callouses, and how they developed.
Lynn Hershman Leeson revels in the role of artist as innovator and trickster, though it’s not always clear whom she is tricking. The five decades of her creative practice, represented in Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco, reveal an artist unafraid to pull stunts that surprise and unsettle, whether it’s by introducing cutting-edge technologies to the art world, or living out performances that feel like a practical joke.
05.06.2017 The Art Newspaper
The film’s power stems from Bruguera’s frankness in discussing her ordeals and Ochberg’s insights into trauma. They discuss a range of topics, including Bruguera’s father (a former diplomat and Castro loyalist), political leaders as father figures and Stockholm syndrome, which Ochberg describes as “this trauma bond—the person who does this to you eventually becomes the father. And when he is no longer threatening to kill you, you almost interpret that as love.”
05.05.2017 Art Press
Hershman Leeson’s work plays with the interface between technology as progress and its status as a harbinger of dystopian futurism. Working in thematic series, some of her best works serve as premonitions for an apocalyptic future run amok by cyborgs and surveillance. Enduring pieces, including the Roberta Breitmore series, continue to challenge our understanding of personal identity, physical appearance and the establishment of personality markers.
04.20.2017 Art Practical
The works in Civic Radar collectively bounce off each other to provide a fuller picture than the sum of its parts. Themes are richly layered throughout the exhibition, sometimes taking the form of mischievous fun and other times eliciting violence and menace. In many works looking becomes a form of desire where technologies of representation create a cascading series of infinite regresses… The artist’s commanding and long career has challenged normative gender roles through her cyborgs for many years and is due its respect. As Hershman Leeson has forged a path in an uncharted field, it is my hope that artists will further challenge normative structures in the future as the world becomes increasingly global and less tied to gender, sexual, racial, and age-based binaries. Where could Ruby go next?
Artists have historically created work that might not be considered or intended to be “drag,” but nonetheless similarly challenge and deconstruct rigid social and sexual archetypes… Cahun was a forerunner to contemporary feminist artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman, and Gillian Wearing, among many others, who have played with elements of drag, often to critique the expectations placed on their gender. Hershman Leeson created a fictional character named Roberta Breitmore between 1973 and 1978, who even had her own therapist; Mendieta photographed herself with male facial hair to challenge gender signifiers; Sherman’s conceptual portraits have seen her disguise herself as fictionalized characters; and Wearing has manipulated her self image with masks.
We really do have to start over again. But technology can never be the full solution to our problems; technology is cultural, and it’s how we use it that matters. The ways the right wing has used media technology in recent years reveals a selfishness and myopia that younger people can actively work against, using those same systems, since they understand them so well. I think privacy ended in my lifetime: we now carry cyborgs in our pockets that permit government and corporate surveillance on a mass scale. At the same time, technology is a kind of mirror, in which we are reflected, and can better understand ourselves.
Now Hershman Leeson has returned to themes of equality and representation in two new commissions for an exhibition at Ambika P3 gallery at the University of Westminster. Real-Fiction Botnik is a 3D holographic bot informed by astrological consultations from the casebooks, and the installation Venus of the Anthropocene features an animatronic doll with golden detachable body parts.Both pieces were part of CASEBOOKS, an exhibition of work by six artists inspired by the launch of a digital archive of thousands of medical records dating back to the practices of two English astrologer-physicians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Venus takes its cue from the cases of female patients featured in the archive, exploring issues of identity germane to the contemporary viewer.“One of the vestiges of freedom we all have as human beings is to choose our attitudes, despite diversity,” the director said in the conclusion of !Women Art Revolution, “to choose to refresh and rescript every circumstance into sustained and creative opposition”.
04.07.2017 New Scientist
Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson subtly undermines our ridicule of past practices with a real-time “consultation bot” that blurs the boundary between superstition and fact, nudging uncomfortably close to the role that Google and WebMD play in modern life. Her 3D holographic Real-Fiction Botnik offers 17th-century-style personal predictions: it can “diagnose” you and deliver your horoscope. Leeson’s work reminds us that superstition and home remedies delivered by seemingly trustworthy digital emissaries are still nothing more than the sum of their parts.
03.20.2017 The San Francisco Chronicle
When Coppola’s husband, the already famous director Francis Ford Coppola, was out of town, the two women threw a party for collectors and art dealers from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Also invited were women from Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, the prostitutes’ union known as COYOTE; guests were told they were in the crowd, but the specific women weren’t identified. As guests arrived, the hostesses greeted them from a basement ballroom. Specially arranged rooms included a bedroom wherein a video of Coppola giving birth played (the screen was tipped, she said, so people could hear it, but not quite see it). In the kitchen, guests were invited to peel potatoes, as homage to Joseph Beuys’ statement: “Even the act of peeling a potato can be an artistic act if it is consciously done.” Cooking expert Joyce Goldstein changed clothes at regular intervals, walking around the party in as many outfits as she could.
03.09.2017 The New York Times
In the 1970s, suffering the neglect endemic to most female artists during that period, Lynn Hershman Leeson assumed the identity of several fictional art critics, wrote about her own work and had the reviews published in art magazines. Ms. Leeson no longer has to resort to such tactics. A retrospective of her work was mounted at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2014, and a smaller version of that show is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through May 21. “Remote Controls,” her second show at Bridget Donahue, also functions as a mini career survey.
03.09.2017 Art Agenda
In this way, the gaze in Hershman Leeson’s work frequently aims to alternate between object and viewer, even if her primary subject is representations of the female body via technology and performance. Lorna features both of these with its choose-your-own-adventure format that tracks a woman who suffers from agoraphobia. A video installation in which the objects in the gallery directly mirror the ones on screen (right down to the goldfish in a small bowl) establishes a feedback loop—as many of Hershman Leeson’s works seek to do—between reality and its representation. Sitting in front of a television, viewers select with a remote control the chapters originally stored on a LaserDisc (now on DVD).
03.08.2017 The Village Voice
While it is not wrong to call Hershman Leeson’s art and technology prescient, to do so would downplay her accomplishments in both fields. She does not consider her work speculative or sci-fi, but rather sees it as rooted in the current moment. As she said in a recent interview in Artforum, “If you’re dealing with the present…people think that you’re in the future, because they don’t know what’s going on in their own time.”
03.08.2017 Daily Serving
A confrontation greets us at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ current exhibition, Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar. Immediately upon entering the space, a perceptual split between the virtual and the real is presented by Hershman Leeson’s The Infinity Engine (2014–2017), a row of distorted mirrors that subsumes and reflects our own appearance, as well as a video installation projected on adjacent walls behind us. Through the lens of the first-person camera, two mural-size screens draw us into opposite entrances of the same bioengineering laboratory; our eye follows the backs of technicians in white coats through long empty hallways and bustling experimental testing areas. Caught between deciphering our own spectral images—appearing unexpectedly and somewhat phenomenologically in both the filmic space and the gallery space—we encounter a major through-line of Hershman Leeson’s work: the experience of self as “other” through technological interface.
03.08.2017 Vice: Creators
It’s serious business fighting the persistent gender inequity in the arts. For Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose retrospective Civic Radar is now at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, it’s life and death. “When artists are battling for space in the cultural memory, omission – or even worse – eradication becomes a kind of murder,” Hershman Leeson says in her 2010 film !Women Art Revolution!. The retrospective, spanning Hershman Leeson’s 50-year career, is organized chronologically, beginning with The Infinity Engine. The multi-room installation generates “narratives about the future of the human species in the post-genetic engineering age,” according to a YBCA statement.
Tucked away at the back of Vilma Gold gallery’s Armory Show booth is a sculpture that tweets your picture, so you don’t have to do it yourself: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s HYBRID MUTANT #2 (1966–2017). The pictures wind up on the Twitter @batofaneyebot, which is supposedly controlled by a user named Icu Cme.
03.01.2017 The Brooklyn Rail
Scholars and activists such as Angela Davis, Nancy Fraser, and bell hooks have criticized second-wave feminism, calling it a movement that has been whitewashed and hijacked by women driven by the desire to acquire status and material gain within a capitalist economy, rather than achieve reproductive rights across gender, class, and race categories. While much of this is true given the pay gap between white women and women of color, the poignant relevance of Hershman Leeson’s work at this moment signals that we are at a crossroads that, if not handled carefully, could lead to an impasse. As the war on women continues to seethe, let it be understood that until that war is rightfully won, a woman’s place is in the resistance.
February 2017 The New Yorker
This selection of absorbing interactive and video works spans four decades in the career of the American artist, a feminist trailblazer who exploits new technologies in provocative ways. The interactive videodisk “Lorna,” from 1979-1982, displayed in a living-room-like set with leopard-print armchairs and teal walls, invites you to snoop through the apartment of an agoraphobe. The navigation is clunky by today’s standards, but the work endures as a seductive, discomfiting exploration of voyeuristic complicity. In “Venus of the Anthropocene,” completed this year, a white-wigged cyborg-mannequin with gold organs sits at a vanity, in a familiar scene of feminine self-inspection. Stand behind her, though, and you’ll find your own face frozen in the mirror, as stats display your gender, age, and mood, as determined by facial-analysis software.
02.22.2017 SF WEEKLY
Leeson has lost none of her zest, and she continues to question curators’ and critics’ choices, sending off letters and emails that offer opinions and fact-checks. In December 2015, the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s chief curator, Renny Pritikin, wrote — in a private email he accidentally sent to her — that Leeson was full of “egomania.” He was responding to Leeson’s complaint that a CJM exhibit about art and technology had left out important female artists from Leeson’s own generation. In the email, Pritikin said he was “afraid that being an adult with her won’t help.” “This is the tip of the iceberg. I am not paranoid,” Leeson tells SF Weekly. “These things really happened not only to me but to many women — like Elizabeth Warren. They want you to sit down and not to talk.”
[Civic Radar] marks the first major exhibition of her work in the Bay Area — even though she’s been an established visual artist for more than 50 years, with work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, SFMOMA and BAMPFA, to name a few. “It’s sort of like this strange thing of being ‘discovered’ after all these decades of doing work that is, I think, substantial,” Hershman Leeson says. “I think a large part of it is the female factor and the fact that you are not taken seriously, and certainly my generation was left out of a lot of history because of the cultural repression and eradication, and really, rejection, of anything that came from people of my gender.”… In this impressive body of work, Hershman Leeson creates a space for herself and fellow female artists to confront the art world and reveal the truth: you can’t afford to omit me now.
February 2017 MOVIE BREAK
Their conversation is not concerned solely with the immediate fright of incarceration, but with the mechanisms of state censorship and propaganda. Politics becomes a performance in front of the audience, whose staging was more complex than any stage show. Art is an invitation to the question: it is the social positioning of the doubt, of the will to understand and change reality, recognizes Bruguera’s manifesto. It is not just a statement about the present, but a call for a different future, a better future. For the nations in which the central figure has grown largely, the path is infinitely wide.
February 2017 ARTNEWS
For the artist herself, the attention had been a long time coming. “People say I’ve been rediscovered,” Hershman Leeson told me, “but there’s no re-. I was never discovered before two and a half years ago.” Since then, she has been retrofitted back into history as a pioneer of feminist art and an essential figure in the evolution of art and technology. Art from a different era can appear new if shown at the right moment, and that has been the case with Hershman Leeson’s 50 years of drawings, sculptures, performances, installation, videos, internet-based works, and feature films, some made with studio backing and released to theaters nationwide. At a time when young artists are exploring how we construct identity through technology, Hershman Leeson’s work in all her different media has proven remarkably ahead of its time. Her art proposes that identities are, in essence, aggregations of data—we are all masses of information gathered over time—and that who we become is shaped by computers, television, electronics. We make technology, but technology makes us too.
February 2017 ARTFORUM
But Hershman Leeson’s avant-garde technologism is cut with camp, horror, and feminized abjection, undergirding an eerie feeling that interactivity is as much about capture and control as it is about activation and agency. Between the Snowden leaks and a Twitter presidency, the narrative around technology has acquired a dystopian charge, and Hershman Leeson’s work is increasingly recognized for its Cassandra-like premonitions of technological panopticism. Such anxieties explicitly structure her new installation, Venus of the Anthropocene, 2017. A grotesque mannequin torso faces a vanity mirror rigged with a camera and crude facial-recognition software that attempts—with modest success—to identify the viewer’s age, gender, and mood.
02.16.2017 DIE TAGESPOST
Against Lies and Repression A Special Theme of The Berlinale Are Films About The Struggle For Freedom and Civil Rights
In Hershman Leeson’s new film ‘Tania Libre’, she portrays her Cuban colleague, Tania Bruguera, who works with artistic means for civil rights on the Caribbean island. ‘When I learned that Tania was in custody in Cuba, I wanted to spontaneously try to help with my means,’ says the director in Berlin. This included calls and the mediation of human rights prosecutors… For, as the talks show, Tania Bruguera not only has to cope with constant repression by the Cuban authorities, but also that her own father has worked for the Cuban intelligence service.
Did not Hershman and Bruguera have any fears that the recordings of the therapies could be too intimate? Both negate and Bruguera adds that it is important for her to be seen as a vulnerable person and not as a tireless fighter for freedom of expression. In contrast to the ruling socialists, she would like to play with open cards and not to spread lies, which also includes integrating one’s own personality into the discourse. ‘I am curious, however, whether and how the Cuban government is trying to use the film against me,’ says Bruguera.
Director Lynn Hershman Leeson and Actress Tania Bruguera From The Documentary “Tania Libre” (Panorama) to The Berlinale Nighttalk With Knut Elstermann
Dr. Frank Ochberg is a psychiatrist and trauma specialist in New York. His specialty is post traumatic stress disorders and Stockholm syndrome. The famous Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, after having been a prisoner of conscience in Cuba for eight months, is accused of treason for the preparation of a government-critical performance. In a conversation with the therapist, she analyzes the revolutionary potential of art and a censorship authority that intervenes before the actual genesis of the work. Performance art, with its short-term, spontaneous and ephemeral elements, is a way to criticize the Cuban state. Bruguera can not be discouraged; six months after her release, she invites artists from all over the world to Cuba.
Thank goodness we still have major personal exhibitions that produce extensive monographs of relevant artists, without having to rely on publishers’ taste and economics alone. This thick luxurious ZKM catalogue of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work, produced after her retrospective exhibition, is the most complete to date on the artist, achieving a long-overdue public acknowledgement of her work.
02.11.2017 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar Opens at YBCA
Within moments, the exhibition introduces many of the themes that Bay Area resident Leeson has grappled with during her career, a career that long remained under-the-radar. The program, selected from a collection of over 800 pieces, seems especially appropriate for the YBCA, which saw thousands stream past its doors just a few weeks prior during the San Francisco’s Women’s March. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” said Lucía Sanromán, director of visual arts for the YBCA. “That is why this work is so important, because the persecution of the female is ongoing in public life”… Action is an important theme for Sanromán, who said bringing the program to the YBCA was the first decision she made as director. “How can we enact politics beyond the symbolic?” Sanromán asked. This exhibition is a step in the right direction, she added. “Leeson was ahead of her time in so many ways,” said Sanromán. “Finally, time has caught up to the [work]. I just wish we were having a different conversation, one that isn’t framed by powerlessness.”
02.10.2017 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The exhibition “Civic Radar,” a retrospective of the work of San Francisco artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, opened this week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It is required viewing for anyone attentive to pioneers of feminism, the development of digital and performance art, or the cultural history of the Bay Area. It is, as well, a reminder that legends are part historical, part mythic — distilled narratives, best told free of muddling detail.
02.08.2017 THE UP COMING
Cuban artist Tania Bruguera made the mistake of conceiving a piece of performance art that was critical of her government, and spent six months in prison for her troubles. Tania Libre is a haunting documentary that showcases parts of the performance in question, along with Bruguera coming to terms with the consequences of creating such an incendiary piece of art. Tilda Swinton lends her soothing and yet scrutinising tones as the narrator.
02.07.2017 East Bay Express
Lynn Hershman Leeson pioneered work about issues most pertinent today before they were even on the radar. A seminal cyberfeminist thinker, Hershman Leeson’s experimentation in new media and net-art considers surveillance, censorship, online-identity construction, and society’s relationship to technology at large — since the Sixties.
“The technology itself, it’s neutral, there’s no utopian or dystopian—it’s really up to what we, as a public, do with it,” says Hershman Leeson. “It’s about having faith in the next generation being able to use the media that was created during their lifetime, to speak it—because they speak it better than anybody—to alter the systems that their parents or grandparents caused them to inherit, and reshape them into one of sustenance.”
During a gallery walk-through, Hershman Leeson carefully explains how she came upon the diverse technological modes she has worked with. More often than not she was ahead of the curve, and yet her name is not synonymous with the innovations she helped to forge. This never stopped her from continuing to try new things, however, and she always embedded an unapologetically feminist agenda within them: from using male pseudonyms to write about her work when no one else would to her investigation of the abuse of women’s images through new media.
The videos and installations of Lynn Hershman Leeson, which went on view last weekend at Bridget Donahue gallery in New York, are painful things… Hershman’s work isn’t always easy to take, but it certainly makes most of the other art on view in New York seem so light that it’s barely there.
At one point or another, everyone wants to become someone new. Maybe don a wig, adopt a new name, or adjust your personality. Many creatives have incorporated alter egos into their practices. Lynn Hershman Leeson used hers—the awkward, heavily maquillaged Roberta Breitmore—to explore feminist identity politics.
12.07.2016 THE NEW YORK TIMES
Indespensible books arrived, among them “Civic Radar,” by Lynn Hershman Leeson, accompanying her retrospective at ZKM/Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.
11.16.2016 United States Artists
Over the last three decades, artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson has been internationally acclaimed for her pioneering use of new technologies and her investigations of issues that are now recognized as key to the working of our society: identity in a time of consumerism, privacy in a era of surveillance, interfacing of humans and machines, and the relationship between real and virtual worlds.
In North America, artists from the older feminist guard also took to the web. The new media pioneer Lynn Hershman Leeson had been developing an alter ego throughout the 1970s, named Roberta Breitmore, who she brought into existence with the help of hired actors and documentary evidence that she manufactured. In the ’90s, Leeson transplanted Roberta Breitmore into the internet, creating CybeRoberta, a doll whose camera eyes upload the real world online. She later directed a series of sci-fi feature films, like Conceiving Ada (1997), which was also based on the life of Ada Lovelace.
10.13.2016 WVTF Public Radio
On Lynn Hershman Leeson at Moss Art Center at Virginia Tech
For as long as Hershman Leeson has been creating her feminist art, she has always incorporated technology into her exploration. In 2002 she made an interactive Internet based web bot that people could have an actual conversation with… years before SIRI ever said a word. It’s pieces like that, that earned her title, groundbreaking artist.
On Trans Genesis: Evaporations and Mutations at Vilma Gold
Lorna… is proof of how ahead of her time Lynn Hershman Leeson has always been, and how current she still is. Made in 1983, the piece is an interactive video installation that sees viewers make decisions for Lorna, an agoraphobic woman who hasn’t left her small apartment in years… The work of this artist, who has been thinking about the relationship between human being and technology since the late 1960s, seems more pressing, current, and urgent the more technology enters into our everyday lives. It’s as if, finally, time has vindicated her.
Fall 2016 Bookforum
Civic Radar, the first major retrospective of Hershman Leeson’s work, presented by the ZKM Karlsruhe last year, was a rare opportunity to view these fascinating pieces. The substantial, handsome accompanying catalogue, replete with a reflective silver cover, charts her practice—from her early wax body parts to her recent 3-D-bioprinted ones—with a comprehensive and illustrated time line, interspersed with texts by diverse contributors. Art historians Pamela Lee and Peggy Phelan and film critic B. Ruby Rich provide deep context; Tilda Swinton, who has starred in three of Hershman Leeson’s experimental science-fiction films, contributes a love letter that illuminates the artist’s ingenuity and humor; and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras talks with Hershman Leeson about the hidden frontier of post-9/11 surveillance (the use of DNA mapping and genetic engineering), considering the possibilities for contemporary activist art that engages with these developments.
Summer 2016 Artforum
FOR THE PAST fifty years, LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON has explored identity’s fluid mutations, creating a pioneering body of work that has presciently engaged questions of subjectivity in an era of artificial intelligence, surveillance, the cyborg, and genetic engineering. Hershman Leeson sat down with fellow artist JULIANA HUXTABLE, whose own shape-shifting work investigates similar issues in the millennial generation, to discuss the ways in which technology both abets essentialism and creates possibilities for its evasion and subversion.
From the outset, [Lynn Hershman’s] work has emphasized audience engagement, exploring the democratic power of interactivity and participation as a mirror to psychological mechanisms and social structures. Civic Radar brings forth the breadth of the artist’s inquiries across artistic fields, and her prophetic concerns as she creates art in response to the media of her time.
6.13.16 Huffington Post
Through intimate interviews, art, and rarely seen archival film and video footage, !Women Art Revolution reveals how the Feminist Art Movement fused free speech and politics to radically transform the art and culture of our times. The film highlights the history of those brave women who were told to give up their dreams, and instead started a revolution. With the rising female empowerment movement, a review of the rocky road traveled in pursuit of gender equity could not be timelier.
Lynn Hershman Leeson on Cyberfeminism, Genetics, and Retooling Technology for the Benefit of Humankind
It has taken some 30 years for the art establishment to wake up to the extraordinary prescience of [Lynn Hershman’s] work, which since the 1970s has anticipated our intimate relationship to technology, the prevalence of virtual identities, and the expansion of the surveillance state—and which is now placing a lens over developments in genetic research.
This book [Civic Radar] is a profound read, offering an insight to this generous and profound artists’ fantastical journey in an era marked by accelerating change. And what’s so amazing is that the content, the narratives, and the histories, are real. It is an Aladdin’s Cave of rich, exceptional artworks, flowing with brilliant ideas. Hershman Leeson has had her finger right on the pulse of what’s relevant in the world for a long time, and transmuted the knowledge she unearths in her examination of identity, feminism, science, technology and more into her own artistic language.
4.20.16 Art News
The embrace of cutting-edge technologies has been a hallmark of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work: she began creating Internet-based projects in the mid-’90s, including CybeRoberta (1996), a robotic doll version of Roberta Breitmore whose eyes were replaced with webcams. She has also made several genre-defying feature-length films, described by B. Ruby Rich in one of the book’s essays as ‘count[ing] simultaneously as science fiction and documentary—life fictions, fictional lives, docudramas, drama-docs.’
In the first interactive video art disc, indeed the first interactive art installation, users make decisions for Hershman Leeson’s agoraphobic female protagonist, interacting with the piece through the use of a remote control connected to a television set. The installation takes the form of a small room, designed to look like a 1970s apartment. A leopard print jacket hangs on a coat hook, a pair of shoes are left underneath. The experience within the installation feels sinister, quickly moving from the tip-toing voyeur to the user, playing with Lorna’s life.
In this installation, you sit in “Lorna’s apartment” and watch a TV on which an apparently agoraphobic woman is shown applying makeup and going about her daily tasks. Flip through the channels, and you might even come across her fiddling with a gun. After a while, the experience becomes a little unnerving—you start to wonder if this person, or a representation of her, will come in and blast you away. The piece was originally conceived as a comment on the sanitizing effect of TV. Viewed in this context however, it seems to anticipate the immersive illusions of virtual reality.
1.8.16 The Guardian
For 50 years Hershman Leeson has been applying her acute intelligence to modern times and modern lives, often with surprising foresight, but always with the readiest wit.
1.7.16 Art in America
In recent years, the New York and San Francisco-based artist has drawn increasing attention for her decades of perennially fresh encounters between technologies and bodies. Her last New York show was in 2008 at bitforms, which specializes in new media. Yet Donahue’s current presentation is grandly quiet in its focus on the old. It includes a scratched painting from the ’60s, along with photographs and performance documents reflecting the artist’s interest in the female body as an object of surveillance and voyeurism. New wallpaper bearing images of genetically modified organisms suggests the internalization of tech, while a projection that one must peer inside a black-box installation to see bends the viewer’s body to the artist’s will.
7.2.15 New Scientist
With her ironic, beautiful and at times disturbing Infinity Engine, Leeson incites us to think for ourselves. Year by year, her art is becoming more hard-hitting and original – an extraordinary achievement for an artist who has been working for five decades.
May 2015 ArtReview
Her work appears to be a decades-preceding preamble to much of what is being produced in New York, Berlin and London today…. Looking back at Hershman Leeson’s career now, the pieces to the puzzle easily fall into place – the artist was on the vanguard of both burgeoning feminist and new-media art movements during the 1960s and 70s, with a concerted interest in the cyborg that unites these fronts.
3.26.15 New York Times
The big question is why we haven’t seen more of her in New York. A major Hershman Leeson retrospective is on view at ZKM/Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, and will travel in Europe, but no American dates have been set. Aren’t our museums supposed to tell us where we’ve been and where we’re going? Someone here should grab that prophetic show now.
1.22.15 Studio International
Hershman Leeson these days is deeply concerned with bio-politics. Her simulated laboratories, her black comedies–or not so comedic–address the ethical and pragmatic quandaries and potential disasters, as well as the enormous possibilities, that scientific breakthroughs have raised, with an even clearer, more vigilant eye. One reason why her work continues to matter is that it has always reflected its present, looking towards the future, with criticality and apprehension, but not despair, believing that we can do better, that awareness will ultimately be our salvation, however uncertain that future is.